Senior finds insight into Middle East and North Africa in team-taught Arabic course
When Ohio University senior Mrin Dasgupta enrolled in a 3000-level Arabic course, she didn’t expect that it would fit so well with her course of study and future career goals.
The team-taught class gave her insight into Middle East and North Africa (MENA) language and culture from three different instructors, each from a different country
“I'm interested in continuing my studies in the MENA region, and I hope to have a career in that region in relation to international politics, either diplomacy, NGO work or research,” said Dasgupta, who is majoring in global studies: war and peace in the Center for International Studies and political science in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I’ve only ever really learned about the Levantine area, so having three professors from the North African region was a welcome change and gave me a more rounded perspective on the MENA region, and it was especially important because of my future work plans,” she added. “I really loved that the focus wasn't just Arabic but also cultural aspects. I would highly recommend this class to other students learning Arabic.”
Perspectives from Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia
Dasgupta's faculty members for ARAB 3990 Special Studies were Sara Abdelrahman from Egypt, Nour Maache from Algeria, and Oussema Dhieb from Tunisia. All three are currently earning graduate degrees in linguistics.
"The Arabic instructors usually teach classes at the elementary and intermediate level but every so often there is a demand for a 3000-level class. Whenever this is the case, students enroll in ARAB 3990/5990 Special Studies and the instructors team-teach in addition to their regular teaching load. Students at this level usually have varying proficiencies and varying needs so instructors work together to customize a curriculum appropriate to their students’ requirements," said David Bell, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of linguistics and director of the Arabic language program in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Since special studies courses often have enrollments of less than five students, they don’t have a formal evaluation procedure. So Dasgupta reached out to tell Bell, “I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the class was amazing due to the level of care and attention I received.”
The instructors planned for the class by first asking Dasgupta to complete a survey about her perceived strengths and weaknesses and the language skills she wanted to focus on. After that, they all met with her individually.
“As far as I was concerned,” Maache said, “interviewing Mrin gave me a deep insight which eventually helped me in designing a syllabus that met her needs and expectations. It also gave me a clear idea about the materials and the activities she needed to reach her goals for the course.” She was surprised to find a large selection of Arabic textbooks in Alden Library that greatly aided her planning.
The instructors decided to divide up the teaching by each spending a month with Mrin. Since they were three teachers teaching one student, collaboration and sharing information was very important. During their regular Arabic program online weekly faculty meetings, they discussed Mrin's progress and agreed about what language areas they needed to focus on. And they also adapted the syllabus according to the needs that arose during the course.
For Dhieb, this kind of team-teaching was completely new. “In my previous teaching experience, I had never collaborated with colleagues in this fashion. A class is usually assigned to a single teacher, so this was an exceptional case of three teachers equally contributing to the same course,” he said.
In addition to regular class meetings, the instructors organized cultural events that Dasgupta enjoyed attending. She came to the Arabic coffee hour to practice her speaking skills with other Arabic language students. In one of these coffee hours, Abdelrahman gave her bamboo pens and ink so she could practice her Arabic calligraphy. She came to a Tunisian horror movie night and met other people from outside the program. Dasgupta also had a henna tattoo.
“In my time with Mrin,” Dhieb noted, “I got to share more about my culture than I usually do in my courses. We would often drift in our meetings to talk about the different aspects of life in the Arab world, and we both enjoyed snacking on one of my favorite Tunisian desserts!”
In her classes with Dasgupta, Maache realized that they both shared the same passion for learning about different cultures. “I really enjoyed our friendly conversations about culture, school life and Mrin's trip to Jordan. I miss these kinds of conversations in ordinary classes where students do not get the chance to talk more about themselves.”
Maach commented: “Being a student helped me to understand all the pressure that students go through by the end of the semester, especially those who have a job, which was the case of Mrin. For this reason, I told her that this class is for her to learn Arabic while having fun.”
How did the instructors feel about team teaching the Arabic class?
“At first,” Dhieb, remembered, “I was worried that the class could be overwhelming for Mrin. But, all my worries dissipated, however, as soon as I spoke with Mrin, and I saw her tremendous receptive capacity which complemented her curiosity in everything related to Arabic.”
Abdelrahman noted, “From Mrin's side, she got to work with three different instructors from three different Middle Eastern countries. From my end, working in a team towards achieving a common goal was very rewarding. I did not feel that this course sounded like three different unrelated modules. On the contrary, it felt like every one of us was completing the other one's task.”
Abdelrahman was grateful for the opportunity to work in a team. She said the key to learning and retaining the language is reading and dictation. “Mrin and I worked together so hard to differentiate between short vowels and long vowels when taking dictation. I believe that dictation and mastering reading correctly will consequently help in listening comprehension.”
“I learned that there is always a way to make things work even when having three teachers to teach one student,” Maache noted.
Dhieb agreed, “I learned that more than one teacher can teach a single language class, and it can help keep things fresh and interesting for students through the semester. And I learned once again that learning about culture is an essential piece in the journey of learning any language. I saw how cultural activities decorate language classes, break their traditional monotony, and boost their success rate. Furthermore, it is beneficial for learners to have more than one reference and one perspective of language and culture.”